(The Center Square) — New Jersey political hopefuls will no longer be required to recite the phrase “so help me, God” to run for elected office in the state.
The state Division of Elections says it will no longer require political candidates to take the religious oath to qualify for a federal, state and local office run. The changes mean political candidates running for state and local elected offices in New Jersey will no longer have to say “so help me God” to get on the ballot.
The move follows a lawsuit filed by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a secular group, which argued that the state was violating the constitutional rights of political candidates who aren’t religious.
New Jersey elections officials informed local county clerks of the changes in the foundation’s recent memo posted online this week.
“We’re glad that the state of New Jersey saw the error of its stubbornly non-inclusive ways,” Annie Laurie Gaylor, the foundation’s co-president, said in a statement. “Residents will now not have to choose between lying or not running for office.”
The lawsuit, filed in October on behalf of congressional candidate Jason Tosone, argued that not allowing those running for office to complete the candidate petition without swearing “so help me God,” the Secretary of State and Division of Elections violates their constitutional rights.
The group’s lawyers argued in legal filings that the requirement “forces Christians who belong to sects that eschew swearing oaths to a deity, such as some Mennonites or Quakers, to violate both their religious and consciences in order to run for public office.”
Secular groups say the phrase “so help me, God” violates the U.S. Constitution’s ban on government establishment of religion and say removing it from official proceedings is long overdue.
Conservative groups who opposed the changes argue that removing “God” from official proceedings is the latest example of secular efforts to diminish the influence of religion in society.
On a federal level, while many oaths to serve in government include the phrase “so help me, God,” others — most notably the presidential oath of office — do not require it.
Despite that, President Donald Trump, a Republican, and President Joe Biden, a Democrat, used the phrase when taking the oath, a tradition some historians trace to President Abraham Lincoln in 1861.